AstraZeneca Warns of Covid-19 Vaccine Shortfall in Europe -- Update
By Jenny Strasburg
LONDON -- AstraZeneca PLC told European Union officials that
fewer doses of its Covid-19 vaccine will be ready for the bloc's
planned rollout in early February, blaming an unspecified
The shortfall comes as European leaders face heightened scrutiny
over what critics say has been a slower rollout of several
Western-developed vaccines than in the U.S. and U.K. It also comes
after European officials clashed this week with Pfizer Inc. and
BioNTech SE over the companies' decision to cut their own planned
deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines to the bloc.
The dual shortfalls put the Continent's plans to accelerate its
vaccine drive at risk. EU nations have placed big orders for the
AstraZeneca shot, partly because it doesn't require the cold
storage needed for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Officials have been
banking on the arrival of their AstraZeneca orders next month to
speed up bloc-wide vaccinations.
The AstraZeneca disclosure also threatens a fresh reputational
hit to the British pharmaceutical giant, which partnered with the
University of Oxford in developing the vaccine. AstraZeneca is
responsible for manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine, as
well as regulatory approvals.
The company has previously faced criticism over how it initially
communicated results of the vaccine's late-stage human trials.
Europe's commissioner for health and food safety, Stella
Kyriakides, said on Twitter Friday night that EU member states
expressed deep dissatisfaction with AstraZeneca's vaccine-delivery
delays. The European Commission will press AstraZeneca on precise
delivery volumes and schedules so that countries can plan
vaccinations, she said.
Austria's health-care minister Rudolf Anschober said that
AstraZeneca's move was unacceptable. The company's commitments to
delivery must be honored, Mr. Anschober said Friday. A spokesman
for the European Commission said that AstraZeneca confirmed a
"change of its delivery schedule" and that the commission was
working to find out more details.
AstraZeneca said it would still be able to start delivering
vaccines upon anticipated approval of the shot in Europe, a
spokesman said Friday evening. The European Medicines Agency is
scheduled to review the AstraZeneca vaccine next week. If approved,
the vaccine could start rolling out in early February.
An AstraZeneca spokesman said Friday, however, that "initial
volumes will be lower than originally anticipated." He declined to
specify the size of the shortfall or the reason, except to say it
was because of reduced yields at a manufacturing site in the
company's European supply chain.
He said AstraZeneca still expects to ship tens of millions of
doses to the EU in February and March as it ramps up production
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine hasn't been approved yet in the
U.S. It was first administered in the U.K. starting in early
January and has since been authorized in a handful of other
countries, including India.
A number of top drug regulators are set to issue recommendations
on the AstraZeneca vaccine around the same time. The EU's regulator
will reach a judgment on Jan. 29. Switzerland is set to issue its
own decision on the vaccine that same week. The World Health
Organization said Friday it would announce its own judgment on
whether to authorize the vaccine within the next three weeks.
Last week, Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the
country's national health department would make a decision on the
AstraZeneca vaccine in the near future.
The WHO said Friday it expects to secure nearly 150 million
doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine by the end of March -- 100
million doses from AstraZeneca's major manufacturing partner in
India and another 50 million doses through AstraZeneca itself.
Distribution is aimed at poorer countries that otherwise would
struggle for vaccines.
AstraZeneca has built a global web of manufacturing partners and
contract sites, designed to produce shots regionally where they are
meant to be distributed. Avoiding bottlenecks from trying to ship
vaccines across the globe was a key goal outlined by AstraZeneca
executives last year. But the European shortfall -- even before
authorization of the vaccine on the Continent -- shows how fragile
production supply lines can be.
AstraZeneca has agreed to make 3 billion doses of the vaccine
this year and not profit from it during the pandemic, or ever in
the case of poorer countries. The ambitious volume goals and
low-cost promise set AstraZeneca apart from other big
pharmaceutical companies rolling out vaccines, but it also brings
massive challenges. AstraZeneca has agreed to supervise a network
of vaccine production, in increasing volumes, simultaneously across
far-flung parts of the world. Supply shortages or hiccups at a
single manufacturing plant can stall the three- to four-month
process of manufacturing the vaccine.
Write to Jenny Strasburg at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 22, 2021 15:34 ET (20:34 GMT)
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